Why Representation Matters: A Closer Look At Korrasami in The Legend of Korra
By: Angie Plumb -
When starting this project, we frequently saw people saying some version of “I just want to watch a cool show, who cares about diversity?” and maybe they’re right. Movies and TV shows are for our entertainment and we don’t need to watch people who look like us to be entertained, so why is it so important? Is it even worth it? Absolutely, and here’s why.
I believe that unless you’ve personally been impacted by representation, it is hard to grasp just how big the impact is. Straight white cisgender (etc.) men have always had complex roles in every type of movie or show imaginable. It’s not hard for them to see themselves on screen in an accurate portrayal. However, it’s a different case for the rest of the population(and they need it the most). Minorities live with the discrimination and ostracization of everyday life, but through the realm of fiction, there is a possibility to see those like ourselves in a world where such hardship doesn’t exist. Seeing this is not only giving us hope for a better future, but it also gives more privileged individuals a window into our lives making them more empathetic to our struggles. Similarly, the more acceptance we see of different cultures and identities in fiction, the more we will replicate them in real life. In this way, the media has the power to humanize or dehumanize oppressed groups because it influences us and our perspectives.
An example of this is in the show The Legend of Korra (TLOK), the sister series of Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA). There are various debates on if the show lived up to its predecessor, and Korrasami is always a major factor brought up in this discussion. Korrasami is the name for the relationship between main characters Korra and Asami, which became canon in the series finale. However, the relationship was mainly made canon in an article after the finale aired, since in the show itself we only saw ambiguous hand-holding and longing looks that could’ve been interpreted as platonic if you’re not fine-tuned to recognize the signs.
In addition to the ambiguity of the ending, it’s argued that there was little to no setup for their romantic relationship, supporting the idea that it was rushed and “only pandering to the leftist agenda”. However, this does have some backing. Hints of their relationship were scattered lightly through episodes, although they did take a backseat to the central focus of the show. For example, at one point in the show, we see Asami’s father as he is thrown into jail. In her following time of need, Asami could’ve gone to Mako or Bolin (the other main characters in her friend group), because she couldn’t easily go to Korra at the time. Instead, she spent her time alone in the park that just so happened to be honoring Korra. It’s something very small that, if mentioned when the episode was airing, would probably look like grasping for straws. Considering the ending, this detail no longer looks coincidental. Small things like this are hidden throughout the show, but if you don’t know to look for them, then Korra and Asami probably look like just friends up until the final episodes.
This then begs the question of “If the representation isn’t even explicit and the ending was rushed, wouldn’t it be better if they just didn’t do it?” but to answer this I think we need to first look at why the writers did this in the first place (spoiler alert! It’s not because they were pandering to the leftist agenda).
TLOK used to air on Nickelodeon, a mainstream kid’s network that has audiences all over the world. This means that there were viewers in countries where homosexuality was illegal. If any shows had explicit examples of this, these countries would simply ban it resulting in Nickelodeon losing large amounts of money. Additionally, this aired on December 19, 2014 meaning gay marriage still wasn’t legalized in the United States. To put it simply, if Korrasami had explicitly romantic scenes together thousands of angry homophobic parents would clog up Nickelodeon’s phone lines, the show would get canceled, and thousands maybe even millions of dollars would be lost. And this is actually what happened, except instead of the show getting canceled, their budget was cut in half and they couldn’t confirm it until the finale. So if you think the writers should have made it more explicit, think again. They couldn’t have, not because they were homophobic or because they only wanted to seem progressive, but because they weren’t allowed to due to homophobia, society in general, and a bit because of capitalism.
That being said, TLOK was still the first-ever mainstream children’s show to include a canonical LGBTQ+ relationship and characters. Not to mention it was between the main characters and neither of them died in the end (which is a big win, if you’re familiar with the faults of queer representation). It’s very easy to demand the representation that queer folks deserve and expect, but many people lack the understanding that we don’t live in a perfect world where people are treated the way we’re supposed to. I believe that Korrasami was the best representation that we could’ve gotten at the time and we should treat it as such, even if we’ve progressed so much that it would be considered terrible representation today. We will never be able to have perfect representation unless we start small and work our way up. Still, that brings us to the question: was it worth it?
TLOK was set up to fail in many ways. People had high expectations for it after ATLA, its budget was cut, and they never knew if they were going to get another season. It was never going to be the perfect show. However, while the contents may have been iffy every now and then, a good concluding finale could make or break a show. Some say that Mako and Korra should have ended up together since Mako was the most developed love interest for Korra, others say that she should’ve ended up single and it would’ve made more sense, so why did the writers sacrifice the quality of the show for this small piece of representation? For this, I give you a quote from Maya Angelou that says “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
I think the writers knew how having two canonical bisexual women in a relationship on a kid’s show would make the LGBTQ+ community tremendously happy and it did. Here’s a Korrasami reaction video if you need proof, but probably don’t wear headphones if you don’t want your ears to bleed from the screams of joy these people made. And this relationship, even if only made up of small crumbs, opened up a gateway for other LGBTQ+ relationships in kid shows. After this, we got Steven Universe, Adventure Time, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and now The Owl House along with many others in between. Kids this generation will grow up with examples of queer people that aren’t demonized or perverted, but innocent and adorable. Children figuring out their identities won’t feel as broken or twisted for doing so. And they will go on to create even better media which creates a cycle for all other generations to come.
TLOK will go down in history for the strides that it made and it created its own legacy outside of the Avatar universe. So was it worth it? Does representation matter? Yes. the impact it has is too important to ignore or deny. And this applies to all minorities, not just the LGBTQ+ community. All races, identities, body types, genders, mental/physical illnesses, and abilities should be properly displayed in the media if we want all humans to feel accepted and wanted. Does that mean we should have to sacrifice good shows if it means having diversity? Well, no, but diversity doesn’t equal a downgrade in quality. The real issue is censorship and how profit is the driving force behind mainstream media. Fortunately, if we normalize diversity, there would be no need for censorship like we saw in TLOK.
In conclusion, representation matters, even the smallest bit because we have to start somewhere. Happy Pride Month!!